We’ve borrowed a line from Adele but this post is truly the ARROW women saying “hello from the outside”. We are preparing for our next strategic plan for 2017-2021 and in October we visited some of our partners in Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Thailand to further understand the ground realities faced by our partner organisations. We met and learned from the women and girls in the communities our partners are working in. Here are some short updates from the teams.
Some of the ARROW women recently made a visit to MAP Foundation, one of our partners in Thailand. MAP Foundation is a Chiang Mai-based organisation with field offices in Mae Sot and works towards the empowerment of migrant workers communities, who are largely from Burma. We visited the MAP Foundation office, the drop-in centre for HIV testing and counseling for the migrant community, and the radio station, and discussed various awareness-raising and capacity building initiatives currently being implemented by MAP Foundation. We learned about the different modalities being employed by MAP Foundation to reach out to migrant male and female workers. Last but not least, we also joined the team on one of the community awareness raising sessions on family planning, and domestic violence and had fun interacting with the women we met.
A group of ARROW women were in the Philippines visiting Likhaan, one of our long term partners in the country. We have been learning more about Likhaan’s work and attempting to put together a snapshot of the plethora of work the organization has been doing for the past 20 years with regard to upholding SRHR, the different strategies they employ to carry the work forward, the political climate in which they work and related challenges. We also met with the next generation of women activists Likhaan works with who generously shared with us their experiences in mobilizing fellow young people, challenges they face in their communities when they disseminate information regarding SRHR, especially family planning and discussed what strategies and programmes would better serve them. We have been in discussions with LGBT activists from the Philippines who not only talked about their work in promoting sexual rights but also the struggles of promoting and protecting the reproductive rights of the LGBT community.
Likhaan was one of the leading civil society organizations that advocated tirelessly for the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill in the Philippines and are now playing an active role in implementing as well as advocating for the implementation of the RH law. We met with some of the members of the National Implementation Team (NIT) for the RH law who gave us insights to the obstacles they face in facilitating the implementation, especially the ongoing legal battles. We also interacted with many dedicated medical practitioners who have been upholding women’s reproductive rights and finding ways to overcome restrictions posed on the public sector by collaborating with civil society organizations.
ARROW shared our work and our resources with all the different stakeholder groups we met with and received suggestions as well as ideas that would help shape our next strategic plan. We concluded our visit by experiencing first hand the reproductive health services provided by Likhaan at one of the family planning clinics run by them and met a community they not only serve through the clinic but also have a close relationship with.
We are leaving the Philippines having learnt more about Likhaan’s work and most of all inspired by their indomitable spirits that continue to be fierce and full of good humor despite the insurmountable odds they face on a daily basis.
On 19-20 October 2015, a team from ARROW visited the Rural Women’s Social Education Centre (RUWSEC) in Tamil Nadu, India. The partner visit was an opportunity to learn more about the partner’s work with the Dalit community, gain insights from ground realities, and discuss ARROW’s work and how this can be enhanced. On the first day, the ARROW team interacted with RUWSEC staff and youth volunteers, and gained deeper understanding on their programme work and realities. On the second day, the ARROW team visited RUWSEC’s resource centre and clinic service unit, a school to learn more about the sexuality education workshops for students, and a village to learn more about the community level SRHR workshops and key issues of married women.
The ARROW team also had a discussion with the community committee and learned that having a visible support group in the villages helps in preventing gender based violence, as well as the unmarried women who shared that early child marriage and unemployment are some of the key issues they face. The interactions with various stakeholders shed light to the many ways that discrimination and exclusion intersect in the lives of Dalit people. We listened to stories of married women not having enough food to eat and being malnourished while having the burden of taking care of their families. The We also listened to stories of young people gaining education and still being unemployed or underemployed because of discrimination.
It is within these ground realities that the work of RUWSEC becomes valuable. RUWSEC provides healthcare services, community capacity building, research and advocacy at the grassroots and national levels to address these gaps. Overall, the partner visit was a success! The interactions with RUWSEC and their various stakeholders inspired the ARROW team to improve their work and build stronger partnerships for promoting and fulfilling SRHR for all.
On 20-21 October 2015, a team of us from ARROW visited our long-time partner in Cambodia, the Reproductive Health Association Cambodia RHAC. The visit was part of our preparation for our next five-year strategic plan and helped us build our understanding of the entirety of RHAC’s work and the context and realities in which they operate, and of how we can best support them.
RHAC is well known in Cambodia for their provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, reaching 300,000 to 400,000 people annually, through their 25 clinics in 12 provinces. We were able to see this in action through a visit in one of their Phnom Penh clinics on the first day, which they are establishing as a one-stop service centre for SRH, including for key populations like young people, transgender people, factory workers and entertainment workers.
Equally important is their work focusing on advocacy on comprehensive sexuality education and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, which ARROW supports. We thus visited the Vanda Institute of Accounting, one of the four universities where RHAC has an MOU to conduct sexuality and SRHR classes, on the second day. RHAC also reaches out to garment factory workers (who are usually young women coming from the rural areas to the urban and peri-urban areas), transgender peer educators, and entertainment workers, and we were able to meet and speak with them as well. We commend RHAC, who despite the restrictive settings for NGOs in Cambodia and changing donor environment is able to effectively deliver quality education and services on SRHR for all.
ARROW was acknowledged for our support for their advocacy work and we also received concrete recommendations from RHAC and their constituencies in terms of how we can strengthen our support.
Through these visits we’ve begun to understand the holistic dimensions of partner’s work, the key issues that the partner is working on and the field and community realities. We were also able to share ARROW’s work more holistically with the partners (as opposed to just the projects and partnerships they are part of) as well as with their allies and networks that we met. It’s been a lot of fun meeting and interacting with our partners in their home countries and we have come away inspired and reinvigorated.